House of wonders

Iconic fixtures of Stone Town’s world-renowned seafront area, the House of Wonders and Palace Museum convey the cultural and architectural influences of Zanzibar, Britain, Portugal, and Oman over the centuries.

The House of Wonders was once the most modern building in East Africa—it was the first building to have electricity and an elevator—and it mixes elements of European style and Zanzibari tradition by including cast iron columns, elaborate door carvings, coral rag, open central courtyards, and mangrove ceilings that together form a truly unique architectural achievement.

Just next to it is the Palace Museum, built by the second sultan of Zanzibar in 1883, which is an opulent palace comprised of beautiful marble flooring, coral stone walls, and silver decorations.

The palace was built in the Omani style as an extravagant Arab mansion, and holds many relics that offer a rare glimpse of a past era.

The House of Wonders and Palace Museum have been converted into popular cultural destinations.

The House of Wonders presents exhibitions dedicated to Swahili culture and the Palace Museum highlights its ties to Zanzibar’s Omani history.

Despite high visitation and acknowledged importance, both buildings are in poor condition and at risk of structural failure due to a lack of conservation and environmental challenges.

In November 2012, a large corner of the House of Wonders collapsed, taking with it several of the iron pillars and threatening the building’s façade and overall structural integrity.

The roofs of both buildings are in precarious state. Approximately 30,000 travelers visit Stone Town per year, a number that reflects the importance of the tourism industry to the livelihoods of many Zanzibaris.

Both buildings also host a number of public events every year, but have the capacity to do even more if restored.

Inclusion on the Watch seeks to draw attention to the plight of this site both locally and internationally.

Few are aware of the urgent threats to the House of Wonders and Palace Museum.

There is hope that building capacity and investment in immediate action will ensure their long-term survival and continued use.

UPDATE

The House of Wonders and Palace Museum were one of nine recipients of a grant from American Express for sites on the 2014 Watch.

The award will support a survey and report on the structural integrity of the building in order to prepare it for restoration work. August 2014

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